College education takes all sorts of shapes these days, as students more often choose nontraditional routes to a degree. Many people of different ages, backgrounds, and career goals are now looking to online education programs. Here's why one person chose an online degree.
Former platoon leader David Gowel used to be leery of the value of online education. "Especially being a military leader, the face-to-face interaction, I felt, was always very important in teaching and training," the United States Military Academy graduate says.
But after serving in Iraq and Germany, Gowel found himself stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky, weighing the value of a graduate management program offered through the Harvard University Extension School. In addition to being able to start courses remotely, the program offered the flexibility to switch between online and on-campus courses, an attractive option for the on-the-move Gowel.
Since enrolling in the management program, he cofounded RockTech, a software company that offers LinkedIn training to corporations, and currently serves as its chief executive officer. Gowel also authored The Power in a Link: Open Doors, Close Deals, and Change the Way You Do Business Using LinkedIn, moved to Massachusetts, and has graduation from Harvard on the horizon.
Online program: Harvard University Extension School (part online, part on-campus)
Degree pursued and graduation year: Master's in management, expected December 2013
Why an online degree: "I felt that, basically, I was going to need an advanced degree to be able to compete in the job market coming out of the military, not having the skills I felt were translatable enough to the business world," Gowel says. The flexible course selection options at Harvard were an added bonus; after he moved to Massachusetts to complete his active service as an assistant professor of military leadership at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he also switched to taking on-campus, evening courses at Harvard.
Degree impact: Though he hasn't graduated yet, Gowel says his future degree has already impacted his life and career. "I basically used the degree and the courses to help me figure out what I wanted to do," he says. "It helped me realize that starting a business was something I felt comfortable doing." One of his favorite parts of the program, he says, was the flexibility to select courses that coincided with the growth of his business, allowing him to tackle real-world problems with the help of his professors and classmates.
Biggest challenge of earning an online degree: "I was really skeptical about how valuable [an online degree] would be; I didn't know if it would be worth it to invest the cost, and if it would be good enough," Gowel says. "In retrospect, I wish I had started this in Germany, because it was very valuable."
Advice for future online students: "I think the key bit of advice I'd give would be to think what your specific goals are—what the outcome you want is," he says, "and then tailor the courses as best you can."
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